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Entering and Exiting Strangford Lough

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What is the route?
These are a set the tidal windows and waypoints to assist in entering, exiting and navigating through Strangford Narrows to Killyleagh located on the southern end of Strangford Lough’s western shore. The sequence of description is from south to north as follows.

  • • Passing east of Angus Rock

  • • East of Meadow

  • • West of Routen Wheel

  • • West of the old Seagen isolated danger marker

  • • Between Strangford and Portaferry Harbours

  • • Southwest of Walter Rocks

  • • Southwest of Balyhenry Point

  • • Northeast of Chaple Island

  • • South of the unmarked awash McLaughlin Rock

  • • North of Skate Rock and Rigg

Finally terminating a ¼ of a mile east of the Town Rock Beacon that marks Killyleagh Harbour and provides access to the western shore.

Why sail this route?
Up until about the 18th century, the main body of the loch was better known by its Irish name Loch Cuan, meaning 'sea-inlet of bays/havens' which is entirely fitting. Twelve miles long and averaging three miles in width and covering 80sq nautical miles Strangford Lough is the largest inlet in Ireland. It provides cruisers with all-weather, all-tide shelter and at least seventy islands, along with many islets called pladdies, bays, coves, inlets and headlands to explore. All of which lie peacefully within a natural Marine Conservation Zone with a handful of pretty County Down villages around its rural shore. It is the finest sheltered sailing area in Ireland and it offers 60 square miles of pure cruising delight to all who come here.

Tidal overview
Today's summary tidal overview for this route as of Wednesday, November 29th at 16:19. Best exit lending itself to northbound passage is at the start of the ebb, best exit leading itself to a southbound passage is at the end of the ebb.
Please note

The current tidal event is springs so expect streams to be at their strongest.

Best Exit (ebb)

(HW Belfast +0140 to -0440)


(Tidal flow )

Ends in 03:32:20

(Wed 13:47 to 19:52)

Best Entry (flood)

(HW Belfast -0420 to +0120)

Starts in 07:14:39

(Wed 09:05 to 14:45)

What are the navigational notes?
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the route. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Clicking the 'Expand to Fullscreen' icon opens a larger viewing area in a new tab.

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The above plots are not precise and are indicative only.


The entrance to Strangford Lough overlooked by Kilclief Castle
Image: Michael Harpur

The name 'Strangford' comes from Old Norse 'Strangr-fjörðr', meaning 'strong sea inlet' which refers to The Narrows that link the upper Lough to the sea between the entrance and villages of Strangford and Portaferry. With its maximum Spring rate attaining 7.5 knots in the Narrows, timing is everything when it comes to entering Strangford Lough. Trying to enter with any ebb running out of the Lough could have a vessel buffeted by standing waves and stood still in currents in various parts of the Narrows.

The narrows leading to Strangford Lough above Kilclief
Image: Michael Harpur

As a minimum, all vessels should plan to enter with the flood and leave with the ebb, preferably at slack water. Likewise, and although well marked and lit, local knowledge is required to negotiate the Narrows at night so a first visit should be in daylight. This limits the approach to daylight, at around the turn of the tide which will most likely only happen once in daylight, which makes advance tidal planning essential. Admiralty Chart 2159 Strangford Narrows or a reliable plotter at the helm should be considered essential.

Audley's Castle overlooking Audley's Roads near the head of The Narrows
Image: Michael Harpur

Strangford Lough should be avoided in any strong onshore winds. Heavy breaking seas will be encountered one and a half miles southeast of the entrance. Worst of all is a southeasterly on an ebb or rise where furious standing waves and overfalls will result.

Strangford Lough opening above Jackdaw and Chapel islands
Image: Michael Harpur


East Channel, in-going 5 kn; out-going stream 7.5 kn at springs. Streams are almost simultaneous throughout the narrows and the period of slack water is very short as the tides reverse.
  • • The flood starts in The Narrows at HW Belfast -3½ hours and runs for 6 hours.

  • • The ebb starts in The Narrows at HW Belfast +2½ hours.

  • • 15-minute period of slack water, as the tides reverse, and the streams run at 3 kn ± 1 hour.

The stream runs in line with the Narrows except to the north of Angus Rock where the flood and ebb run north-west and south-east respectively.
Please note

HW Strangford is 1 hr 52 mins after HW Belfast. As Belfast is Dover +0007 the tide books are generally interchangeable.


Best entry time: Between Belfast High Water -0420 and +0120. The best time for newcomers to arrive and make an entry is at the end of the ebb so as to make an entry at slack water or on the young flood before the flow really gets going. This keeps the speed over the ground nearer what a helmsman is accustomed to. The last hour of the flood is best avoided in the event that there is not enough time to complete the passage through the narrows before the tides reverse.

Best exit time - lending itself to southbound vessels: Be south of Angus Rock by Belfast High Water -0440. Normally a boat capable of achieving 5 - 6 knots should leave Strangford, or the Portaferry pontoons, about 30 minutes earlier and take the strong ebb tide down the Narrows. The ‘best exit time’ facilitates a southbound voyage as, upon exiting the Narrows, the flood tide in the Irish Sea will flow southwestward for about 5 hours afterwards.

Good exit time, lending itself to northbound vessels: Be south of Angus Rock by Belfast High Water +0140. This normally means leaving Strangford or the Portaferry pontoon at BHW +0040 and fighting the last of the flood tide down the narrows. This exit time better suits northbound vessels as, upon exiting the Narrows, there is a favourable northward flowing ebb tide in the Irish Sea for about 4 hours. But there cannot be any delay with this exit or it could lead to an encounter with significant overfalls off the entrance to the narrows. These are created by the ebb tide flowing south-eastward out of the narrows and colliding with the Irish Sea’s northeastward flow. A way to evade the worst of this is to steer to pass close to Bar Pladdy South Cardinal Mark and out eastwards where the water to the north of the overfalls will be found to be calmer.
Please note

It is essential to check the prevailing weather conditions before exiting. A notably dangerous situation can occur if a vessel exits into any strong onshore winds as it will not be possible to turn back against the tide to regain safe water and a vessel will be pushed out into the overfalls. Heavy breaking seas will be encountered one and a half miles southeast of the entrance in strong onshore winds. Worst of all is a south-easterly on an ebb where furious standing waves and overfalls will result.


Northern Approach Vessels approaching from the north will find Bangor Marina an ideal tide wait location. The best time to depart the marina is about two hours before low water. This enables a vessel to pick up on an early starting back-eddy in Donaghadee Sound and then to continue with the benefit of the southerly flood tide that commences at HW Belfast / Dover +0500 hours. Departing at this time provides about nine hours of a fair tide for the 25-mile passage to the Strangford Lough fairway buoy.

The view southwards towards Ballyquintin Point from Portavogie Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

This should provide most boats with ample time to pass a couple of miles outside the off-laying rocks and islands and arrive in time to pick up a favourable tide at the Narrows. Good waypoints would be the buoys of Donaghadee Sound, Skullmartin Light, South Light, Butter Pladdy Cardinal and then to the first of our sequence but do not cut the corner at Ballyquintin Point as the dangerous Quintin Rocks extend out a ¼ of a mile from the point. This route can be found in the Northeastern Ireland Coastal Description Malin Head to Strangford Lough Route location. Those who would like some coastal pilotage can choose to pass inside the South Rock, and then pass close east of the Butter Pladdy East Cardinal.

Southern Approach Vessels approaching from the south will find routeing information in the Easter Ireland Coastal Description Strangford Lough to Dublin Bay Route location. Optimised tidal for the passage is covered in the Bangor to Dublin, either way, with 12 hours of favourable tide Route location.

Those arriving at an inconvenient time will find Ardglass Harbour (Phennick Cove Marina) Click to view haven, 5 miles south-westward of the entrance, offers the ideal tide wait location to perfectly time an approach.


The East Channel is the principal approach to Strangford Lough. It passes in approximately midway between the entrances Killard and Ballyquintin points, then to the east of Angus Rock Lighthouse before taking a central path after passing Kilclief Castle on the western shore.

But there is an alternate approach via the West Channel that leads over the bar to the west of Angus Rock between the rocks connecting Killard Point and The Potts rocks. It has a least charted depth of 3.9 metres and is narrowed to about 200 metres at one point by two sunken rocks that are unmarked. Small craft can use this channel to avoid the strength of the tidal current in East Channel as it is possible to enter during the tail end of the out-going stream and make some headway west of Angus Rock before the stream has finished.

The Kilclief anchorage on the western shore of The Strangford Narrows
Image: Michael Harpur

It is also very possible to make an entry and anchor off at Kilclief Bay Click to view haven or proceed up to Cross Roads Click to view haven to await the tide turn to proceed past Rue Point and the two respective stone beacons of Salt Rock and Gowland Island, where the outgoing tidal stream attains its greatest strength.

The Cross Roads anchorage
Image: Michael Harpur

It is important to note that low water in the West Channel occurs about 1.30 hours before the ebb stops and the in-going stream flows strongly towards Tail of Angus so keep well westward of it where there is ample water after entering.


The complete course is 7.68 miles from the waypoint 'Strangford Narrows Approach' to 'Killyleagh' tending in a north westerly direction (reciprocal south easterly).

Strangford Narrows Approach, 54° 18.615' N, 005° 30.000' W
This is just over a ½ mile east of St. Patrick’s Rocks, that is located 600 metres to the south-east of Killard Point. It is on the bearing of 323.7° T of Angus Rock Lighthouse, south and about midway of a line drawn between the Bar Pladdy South Cardinal light and Strangford Safewater buoy.

       Next waypoint: 1.06 miles, course 324.14°T (reciprocal 144.14°T)

East Channel, 54° 19.470' N, 005° 31.060' W
This aligns the 341°T leading light beacon off Dogtail Point, front; Oc(4)G.10s, 2 metres high red beacon, and Gowland Rocks, rear; Oc(2)G.10s 5 metres high white stone beacon, green top, to pass Angus Rock Lighthouse about 300 metres to port. It is 'Track A' on Admiralty 2159.

       Next waypoint: 0.83 miles, course 341.03°T (reciprocal 161.03°T)

Meadows Shoal, 54° 20.250' N, 005° 31.520' W
This is when Kilclief Castle will be seen on the western shore, bearing 260°T, and the vessel will be north of Meadows. The course now turns slightly westward, 'Track B' Admiralty 2159, on the line of bearing of 330° T of the Salt Rock Light beacon an 8 metre white stone, with a red top Fl. R.3s.

       Next waypoint: 0.78 miles, course 330.13°T (reciprocal 150.13°T)

Cross Roads, 54° 20.930' N, 005° 32.190' W
This is between Cross Roads and Dogtail Point. The course now turns slightly northward, 'Track C' Admiralty 2159, 343° T up the centre, passing west of Gowland Beacon, Routen Wheel and the Seagen.

       Next waypoint: 1.47 miles, course 342.77°T (reciprocal 162.77°T)

Strangford Harbour, 54° 22.335' N, 005° 32.938' W
This is where Admiralty 2159 'Track C' crosses the alignment of 256°T of the Strangford leading lights.

       Next waypoint: 0.29 miles, course 342.63°T (reciprocal 162.63°T)

Church Point, 54° 22.607' N, 005° 33.084' W
This is abreast of Church Point and 1½ miles south-westward from Portaferry Marina. The route now turns north-westward, on Admiralty 2156's Track D, for a distance of 1¾ miles, on 306° T, into Strangford Lough.

       Next waypoint: 1.72 miles, course 306.02°T (reciprocal 126.02°T)

Strangford Lough, 54° 23.620' N, 005° 35.478' W
The is in the southeast corner of Strangford Lough, ½ a mile westward of Ballyhenry Island. It is the juncture of track 'D' and 'E' depicted on Admiralty Chart 2156. Those intending to proceed to the northwest side of the Lough should proceed up the deep waters along Track 'E'.

       Next waypoint: 1.53 miles, course 269.98°T (reciprocal 89.98°T)

Killyleagh, 54° 23.619' N, 005° 38.111' W
This is a ¼ of a mile east of Killyleagh's Town Rock (red brick beacon) in the white sector of the WRG leading light.


From the 'Approach to Strangford Narrows' waypoint steer for Angus Rock Lighthouse, a white tower with a red top, on a bearing of 323.7 ° T located in mid-channel and 1 mile north of the entrance's western Killard Point.

Angus Rock Lighthouse - Fl. R. 5s 15m 6M position: 54° 19.843’N, 005° 31.520’W

The Angus Rock tower with Kilclief in the backdrop
Image: MS Drone Films External link

The route passes ½ a mile to the northeast of St. Patrick's Rocks, close east Killard Point. It is a rock that dries to 3.1 metres which is marked by a red unlit beacon.

St Patrick's Rocks - Red Beacon position: 54° 18.584’N, 005° 30.937’W

The Angus Rock tower with the obelisk beacon standing on Tail of Angus.
Image: MS Drone Films External link

Then it passes about 400 metres to the southwest of the Bar Pladdy South Cardinal ½ a mile south of the entrance's eastern Ballyquintin Point.

Bar Pladdy South Cardinal – Q(6) +L Fl. 15s position: 54° 19.344’N, 005° 30.501’W

At about ½ a mile from the lighthouse, when the north end of Portaferry town comes open to the west of Bankmore Hill, located at Rue Point, you will have arrived in the East Channel.

From the 'East Channel' waypoint the course turns slightly eastwards taking a north by north-west direction on Admiralty Chart track 'A' to leave Angus Rock to port. Align the Gowland Rocks and Dogtail point beacons on 341° T. The front leading light beacon off Dogtail Point; Oc(4)G.10s is 2 metres high red beacon and the rear Gowland Rocks Oc(2)G.10s, is 5 metres high white stone beacon, green top.

Take this new bearing and leave Angus Rock Lighthouse, 300 metres to port. Only the crest of the rock shows but a drying ledge extends ½ a mile southward and 300 metres to the north of the light tower. Pladdy Lug, marked by a large pile beacon made up of glazed white tiles stands, will be seen opposite on the eastern shore off Ballyquintin Point, is passed 500 metres to starboard. The area within Pladdy Lug is foul with rocks and drying reefs, as is the case with both shorelines from the entrance up to Rue Point.

Pladdy Lug – position: 54° 19.826’N, 005° 30.812’W

Continue on this track until the 'Meadows Shoal' waypoint where Kilclief Castle is abeam, a conspicuous square castle about ¾ of a mile away on the western shore. Kilclief Castle bearing 260° to safely clear Meadows Shoal to port. This is an area with 2.3 metres CD of cover at its shallowest southern end so it is of concern to very few.
Please note

Prepare for the flood to run north-westward north of Angus Rock carrying the vessel across the Meadows Shoal.

Kilclief Castle standing conspicuous on the western shore
Image: Michael Harpur

From the Meadows Shoal waypoint onward, a mid-channel route is free of obstruction so enjoy the ride. The helmsman should be mindful that The Narrows’ rocky and uneven bottom can cause eddies and overfalls to occur throughout the channel, particularly when heavy weather collides with the full run of the tide.

The southern half of The Narrows as seen from Cross Roads
Image: Michael Harpur

The 'Cross Roads' waypoint is positioned on the juncture of track 'B' and 'C' depicted on Admiralty Chart and a ¼ mile east by southeast of the Cross Roads Click to view haven anchorage. The alignment (astern) of 162¾° T of the beacon on Tail of Angus and Saint Patrick’s Rock, 1 mile south by southeast, leads along Track 'C'.

Southbound vessel passing the two respective stone beacons of Gowland Island and
Salt Rock

Image: Michael Harpur

The track leads clear of the Routen Wheel whirlpool situated approximately 500 metres south of Rue Point and where the tidal streams attain maximum strength. The two respective stone beacons of Salt Rock and Gowland Island, locally known as the pepper pots, mark the southern approaches to the whirlpool which is about 200 metres above and on the east side of the fairway. The Routen Wheel shifts to the ebb being closer to Rue Point on the rise and moving about 400 metres south towards the Gowland Rocks on the ebb.

The Routen Wheel situated ⅔ of a mile above Cross Roads
Image: Michael Harpur

It is here that the outgoing tidal stream attains its fastest rate of 7.5 knots at springs. It can be seen in a series of whirlpools, boils and swirling waters, which are caused by a ledge extension from the point and pinnacles of rock on the seabed. All vessels must pay attention to steering here and in rough weather and it can be dangerous to small craft.

Strangford Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

However, as it lies to the east of The Narrow’s mid-channel route it is easily evaded. It is one of the features that make The Narrows an extraordinary sailing and boat-handling experience and one that leisure boaters should take due caution when approaching.

Image: Michael Harpur

The site of what was the Seagen Marine Tidal Generator, located in the centre of The Narrows about ⅓ of a mile southwest of Strangford, carries Isolated Danger markings. Admiralty Track 'C' passes its western side but it may be passed on either side.

Track D passing Walter Rock
Image: Michael Harpur

The 'Church Point' waypoint is positioned mid-channel and on the juncture of track 'C' and 'D' depicted on Admiralty Chart between Strangford Harbour Click to view haven and Portaferry Click to view haven.

The vehicle ferry crossing from Strangford to Portaferry
Image: Michael Harpur

Keep a sharp eye out for the vehicle ferry crossing between Strangford and Portaferry and take care not to impede its operation. It crosses at 15-minute intervals, 8 am to 11 pm and comes alongside its berth to the south of Swan Island. The vessel's tracking, when carried by the swift-moving currents, makes it difficult to judge relative paths and closing distances. As such it is best to stand well off should it be crossing.

Walter Rocks
Image: Michael Harpur

This proceeds past the Walter Rocks, which dry to 3.4 metres, and is located a ¼ mile above Portaferry and is nearly 200 metres from the east shore. It is marked with a perch when covered. Walter Pladdy, an awash rock, also lies 100 metres southward of it. Then take care to avoid the partly submerged stern section of the SS Empire Tana lying about 60 metres off of John’s Rock on the opposite end of
Ballyhenry Bay Click to view haven.

The wreck of the SS Empire Tana
Image: Michael Harpur

It breaks the surface at low water and is in 12 metres of water. Between the SS Empire Tana and Ballyhenry Point is the pinnacle John’s Wee Rock, awash. It then passes southwest of the Ballyhenry Point light beacon, Q.G.3m 3M, that marks foul ground which extends southward from Ballyhenry Island.

The Ballyhenry Point light beacon
Image: Michael Harpur

Proceeding to the west of Ballyhenry Island, away from the Narrows where the flow enters the main body of Strangford Lough, the water flow becomes much reduced. Away from the main thrust of the central channel, the wide expanse of the Lough allows more room for water movement.

Don O’Neill Island with The Narrows 2½ miles in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur

As a result, the current starts to slacken off. Nonetheless, where the current runs along the central channel of deeper water it still retains enough strength, particularly on a spring tide, to cause turbulence as far as Don O’Neill Island Click to view haven about 2½ miles north of Ballyhenry.

Yacht proceeding along Track D past Audley's Point
Image: Michael Harpur

The 'Strangford Lough' waypoint is situated in the southeast corner of the Lough, ½ a mile westward of Ballyhenry Island and 0.4 miles north by northeast of Chapel Island. It is the juncture of track 'D' and 'E' depicted on Admiralty Chart 2156. Those intending on the north or northwest side of the Lough should proceed up the deep waters along Track 'E'. This passes along the east shore of the lough clear of the unmarked awash McLaughlin Rock, Long Rock, Don O'Neill Island and Limestone Rock.

Chapel Island with Ballyhenry Island and the head of the narrows in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur

Those proceed towards the southwestern and west end of the lough the Quoile River and Killyleagh should continue on in the white sector of Killyleagh's Town Rock (red brick beacon) in the white sector of the WRG leading light. This passes south of the unmarked awash McLaughlin Rock, North of Skate Rock, marked by a pole and drying and to 0.9 metres, and north of the covered Rigg Rock.

Yacht proceeding towards Town Rock Beacon
Image: Michael Harpur

From here a vessel may proceed to Killyleagh Click to view haven, north to East Down Yacht Club Click to view haven or in a southwest direction via the Quoile River towards Downpatrick which it historically serviced. This was until the tidal barrier was established at Hare Island where navigation ceases and the Quoile Yacht Club Click to view haven have their clubhouse. But in this 2-mile distance, the River Quoile has good depths and a host of good anchorages.

Image: Michael Harpur

Here and onward throughout the Lough currents become less of a concern. Although there are some currents between the islands and headlands in the west of the Lough, for example, at Ringhaddy Sound Click to view haven, the general rule is that the more an area is enclosed, the less currents will be experienced. Little tidal currents may be found in the most enclosed corners of the Lough.

The Quoile River's tidal barrier where navigation ceases
Image: Michael Harpur

Indeed, were it not for the rise and fall of the tide gently creeping over these stretches of soft mud locked within their drumlin headlands, these sheltered inlets could easily masquerade as lakes. But watch out for keep your wits about you inside the Lough as it’s studded with boulder reefs or 'pladdies'.

What is the best sailing time?
Sailing season is May to September, with June and July offering some of the best weather. Nevertheless, the incidence of gales in June and July are on average two days of winds each month of winds up to force seven. So you may be either held up or having a blast depending on your sailing preferences. Ireland is not subject to persistent fog – statistically, complete days of persistent fog occur less than once in a decade.

With thanks to:
With thanks to the invaluable help of Brian Lennon, Skerries Sailing Club.

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